BETHLEHEM — In his song “Motherjudge,” local musician Bryan Thomas talked about his current stomping grounds this way:
Living in the acoustic soul rock and roll capital of the universe … a.k.a. Delmar.
“The capital is where I live,” said Thomas. “It’s that simple.”
Thomas is certainly the capital’s mayor. His blend of soul, funk, folk and rock catches the ear and keeps audiences captivated.
Thomas’ influences are as varied as the styles he traverses in his songs.
“As a kid, it was my parents’ record player. I’d listen to whatever was playing on it, so it was a mix of gospel, soul and folk,” said Thomas, who grew up in Niskayuna. “When I got older, I think the first album I bought with my own money was AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black.’”
Two artists influenced Thomas’ songwriting – Joni Mitchell and Prince.
“They were taking all these disparate little things that I was listening to, and they put it all together,” said Thomas.
Prince, in particular, also influenced Thomas when it came to recording his songs. Like Prince, Thomas records all of the instruments and vocals in his home studio, giving him the freedom to let the music go wherever he wants it to go.
“Songwriting is always a weird, organic process for me,” said Thomas. “Usually the music comes first, and then the lyrics.”
At first, Thomas focused on recording full-length albums, but these days, he’s more interested in capturing the moment. He’s been filming his live performances – once rare, but now a bit more frequent – and some of the songs he performs are so new that he hasn’t recorded them yet.
“Right now, what I do live – as opposed to those rare moments when I’m recording in the studio – is so different,” said Thomas. “The performance of (the songs) feels like a lot of it. In a recording studio, it doesn’t come off with the same … energy. That’s why I’m recording these live videos. It’s very efficient, and it gets me out of the basement.”
Thomas said the idea of making another full-length album doesn’t hold the appeal it once did, though he didn’t rule it out.
“The stuff I keep going back to is the bigger, full project,” said Thomas. “These days, the big thing in our house is the ‘Hamilton’ cast album, and my daughter will listen to it, but she’ll play it on shuffle and I’ll get enraged because the order is important.”
However, Thomas said, “As a kid in middle school and high school, I liked the idea of the concept album, but now I find them to be kind of silly and pretentious.”
As it is in the studio, Thomas relies on what he can do himself live. When people see him perform Sunday, June 19, at Albany’s Dad Fest in Washington Park, they’ll see Thomas standing alone with only his electric guitar and a pedal board that includes a looping station with pre-recorded tracks to expand his sound.
“Buying guitar pedals, that helps scratch the middle age crisis itch,” Thomas said with a laugh.
Live performances are rare for Thomas, as he usually plays only a few shows per year. He said he was surprised when organizers invited him to play Dad Fest, along with electric bluegrass band Bondville Boys and headliner Southside Johnny and The Poor Fools.
“It kind of fell out of the sky,” said Thomas. “I don’t know how they found me.”
Thomas certainly didn’t foresee playing on Father’s Day.
“It’s funny. Father’s Day is supposed to be a day off, and I’m working,” said Thomas with another laugh.
Despite his rare live appearances, Thomas is as active as ever in the Albany music scene.
“I think there’s a lot going on,” said Thomas. “I’m still connected to the people I’ve known 10, 20 years ago, but I see others coming up.”
And with new songs always popping up, there is little doubt Bryan Thomas will continue to send more funky dispatches from the “acoustic soul rock and roll capital of the universe,” also known as his recording studio.
“Every couple of weeks, something kind of peeks out, and I record it on my iPhone,” said Thomas.